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Culture

From Politics to the Opera Stage

The uncompleted "Reichstag" subway station is the setting of a new opera based on the life of Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat's party leader who made good after the fall of the Wall.

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Soprano Kathrin Unger starts "Angela - a National Opera" with "I come out of the sauna and go to the west"

The setting is the yet-to-be-completed “Reichstag” subway station, which lies at the center of German power – directly between the Reichstag and the Chancellery. The so-called "Chancellor’s Line" was supposed to connect the government district with central Berlin. But the city’s financial straights have prevented its completion. So the monumental underground station sits unused.

But it’s for rent. And the Neuköllner Opera has turned the construction site into a stage for the presentation of its latest opera, “Angela – a National Opera.” That's Angela, as in Angela Merkel, boss of the Christian Democratic Party.

“It’s an exciting location,” librettist Michael Frowin said in an interview with the Sächsische Zeitung. “It’s a monstrous construction site, a huge, crazy project that really shows the condition and the fragility of this republic. To make music theater here is really exciting.”

From East to West

The opera itself – with music by composer Frank Schwemmer – tells the story of Merkel’s life, the story of an eastern woman who managed to make good in the western world.

Soprano Kathrin Unger makes her first appearance as Angela by singing “I come out of the sauna and go to the west.” Which is, actually, what happened to Merkel on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall came down.

With a towel tucked under her arm, Merkel made her way to the west. The choir sings: “madness, madness!”

Frowin, who is known as a cabaret writer and has a new job as the assistant artistic director of a Dresden cabaret, said he tried hard to keep the opera from going in the direction of cabaret.

Not a comedy - but there are places to laugh

“I hope there are places where one can laugh,” Frowin said. “But it was important to us not to make it into a comedy.”

Opera wouldn’t be opera without exaggeration, however. And “Angela” does that as well.

Fast forward to the last scene. Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber are sitting directly across from each other. Stoiber stoicly repeats his point, that he is the better chancellor candidate. Merkel can’t take it anymore, pulls a revolver out of her purse and shoots her last bullet.

But it was all for nothing. An unruffled Stoiber continues his speech.

“Of course, this is not based 100 percent on reality,” Frowin told DW-WORLD. “But a large part of the text is original quotes or are based on interviews, speeches and the party program.”

In Germany, the idea of using political figures as opera subjects is relatively new. The only past attempt was a 1997 opera that told the story of former Chancellor Willy Brandt. In the U.S., by contrast, the genre gained renoun in the late '80s with composer John Adams’ production, “Nixon in China.”

Merkel knows about her namesake opera, and was apparently amused at the idea – but said she will not have time to see it because of a hectic election schedule. The opera runs through election day, Sept. 22.

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